Ron Block’s first two solo albums were religious-based offerings, thoughtful, challenging and compelling. Both were of high quality all around. For his third, he has switched to a more secular offering, though no less thoughtful, challenging, and compelling, and spiritual. And, of course, the results are what you would expect from Block, high quality all around.
Rather than write the lyrics himself for the 11 original songs (along with three traditional instrumentals performed in an old-time/bluegrass hybrid), Block has turned to poet Rebecca Reynolds. Having a poet involved brings to these songs a more archaic manner and a depth of feeling that goes a bit beyond the usual bluegrass fare. A line, for example, such as While the tender moon lingers, Dear, abide nigh and long, from “Summer’s Lullaby,” has a nineteenth century parlor feel. Others, such as her line for I love the laugh of a ginger lass with a thistle in her hair, from the dance-like “Walking Song,” have a more medieval air. Still others are colored with a modal old-time mountain ballad-style.
Whichever way they go, Block’s musical settings, ranging from old-time to Celtic to bluegrass to even a touch of funk (“Sunshine Billy”), fit hand in glove with the lyrics. “Ivy,” featuring just Block and guitar, gets a rolling support that underscores the bouncy folk feel of the song. The 6/8 beat and structure of “Let There Be Beauty” carries hints of Jethro Tull and old English balladry, while “Nickel Tree Line” is an edgy, slightly stomping, train song. All three are highlight cuts. So, too, are the aforementioned “Walking Song,” the spiritual verve of “Jordan Carry Me” and the elegant closing gospel tune “Rest, My Soul.” Block’s atmospheric and droning instrumental arrangement of the traditional “What Wondrous Love Is This” also deserves mention, adding a mystical element to what is an already impressive recording. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.)BW